Kingaroy cartel – company pleads guilty over price fixing

Queensland company Alkaloids Australia has pleaded guilty to criminal cartel conduct.

Nov 16, 2021, updated Nov 16, 2021
ACCC chair Rod Sims.

ACCC chair Rod Sims.

The company has pleaded guilty to three charges and admitted a further seven offences involving price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation cartel arrangements with other overseas companies.

Alkaloids of Australia produces a pharmaceutical ingredient used in anti-spasmodic medication, known as Dubosia, a native tree grown around Kingaroy. It used to be known as corkwood.

The tree produces an active pharmaceutical ingredient in antispasmodic medications taken to relieve stomach pain and bowel cramps.

The charges were brough after an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and was heard in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court.

The company’s former export manager, Christopher Kenneth Joyce, had also previously pleaded guilty to criminal cartel charges relating to the same conduct.

The price-fixing charges Joyce pleaded guilty to related to a period of about eight years from July 2009, when criminal cartel laws came into force in Australia.

It was the first guilty plea by an individual to criminal cartel conduct under the criminal cartel laws.

“Businesses that coordinate on prices, markets or bids for tenders should know that they are engaging in illegal cartel conduct. This type of conduct unfairly disadvantages other businesses and drives up prices for consumers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

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“The ACCC is committed to pursuing these challenging investigations to detect and dismantle cartels and refer serious cartel conduct for prosecution.”

The charges relate to an ACCC investigation into the conduct which continued over a period of almost ten years from July 2009, when criminal cartel laws came into force in Australia.

The matter is being prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).

Alkaloids of Australia has been committed to the Federal Court of Australia for sentencing, and the matter is next listed for a case management hearing on 25 November 2021.

An ABC report last week on the farming of the Dubosia plant claimed much of the operations were held in secret and farmers were mostly unaware of the market dynamics.

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